With the Florida Gators preparing for their second game of the 2011 season (Sept. 10 vs. UAB), defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the Gators defense and evaluate some of Florida’s standout players.
LOOKING FOR THE TURNOVERS
After the game and during media on Monday, head coach Will Muschamp stressed how important turnovers were, a statement that Quinn supported Wednesday evening. “To me it’s a topic that I feel so strongly about – it’s just taking the ball away. I thought we could have had more attempts on the ball – what we call rips and strips,” he said. “On a good game, where you’re really getting a lot of attempts at the ball, I’d like to see that number drastically increase. […] We feel like there are some unique ways [to create turnovers] – maybe we see on tape where a ball carrier carries it loosely and we target that guy. Some of the tipped balls and those kinds of things [could be luck] but in the run game we feel it is something we can do better.”
Though the Gators were unable to take the ball away on Saturday, they did perform well in an area that Florida struggled with one year ago. “I didn’t think there was a lot of missed tackles out there,” he noted. “For the first time out and the first ball game, as a coach, that’s always one of the things you look to see as a defensive coach. Are these guys tackling and finishing on plays? I was encouraged by some of that.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
He may have spent his last 10 years coaching in the NFL, but Quinn also spent some time as a college coach from 1994-2000 with William & Mary, the Virginia Military Institute and Hofstra. After dealing with million-dollar salaried professional athletes who spend hours upon hours working on their game each day, he has noticed one major difference about coaching at the college level. “You have to be really creative in your meeting time. It really tests you in your preparation,” he said. “That’s kind of been one of the things that coming in I knew was going to be a challenge for me – to condense everything – and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Quinn feels like he has been succeeding at his new role so far and is having a good time doing it. “It is a lot of fun, it really is. When you have the energy of some of these young guys – where they want to stay after, do more, come in, watch tape. There’s a lot of questions. All of us as coaches kind of see ourselves as teachers and that’s kind of why we got into it,” he said. “Not only just for the love of football but for the ability to impact some young guys and help them out. To me it’s been a lot of fun going through training camp, helping the young guys develop. […] It’s a cool feeling as a coach to see a guy come through, learn it and now put the skills to work.”
During training camp, Florida threw as much as possible at the players in order to expose them to plenty of looks and help with recall all season. “I think it was a hard camp. We wanted it to be both hard mentally and physically – just put the pressure on and we kept installing and kept installing knowing there was a lot in,” Quinn said. “We pull some of those clips from training camp [and say], ‘This week we’re going to play this coverage or this pressure just like we did back in training camp.’ And then when you can put it on now you say, ‘Remember this?’ And then you play it and there’s some recall there.”
TURNING UP THE PRESSURE
The Gators notched a pair of sacks on Saturday, but Quinn obviously wants to see more pressure – especially from the defensive line that he is counting on to get to the quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable every play. “We talk about the outside guys trying to collapse the pocket on the tackles and the inside guys you’ll hear us use the [phrase] ‘push the pocket’ so the quarterback doesn’t have a chance to hitch up in the pocket,” he said.
Even if the front seven doesn’t always create sacks, there are plenty of other ways they can be effective and help out the rest of the defense. “We talk about affecting the QB every week. Sometimes it’s hits on the QB – and we don’t necessarily put a number on the sacks. How many hits we can get, how many pressures we can get, batted balls – those are things that can affect a QB,” Quinn explained. “Certainly with a talented QB, the more hits, the more pressure is certainly the formula for us.”
DEALING WITH A YOUNG SECONDARY
Nearly every player in the Gators’ secondary this season is an underclassman, and the defense is counting on them big-time to help solidify what is expected to be a productive starting front seven. Quinn knows the youth can be an issue but hopes that intense game-week preparations can help reduce some of the inexperience. “There’s good and bad with a young player. You have a fresh slate to say, ‘This is how we’re going to go about our business to play ball.’ And then the other time you’re trying to catch them up on techniques all through training camp, especially the rookies who had their first exposure in training camp,” he said. “On the back end with Travaris [Robinson] and Will working with these guys, they’ve done a terrific job getting these guys up to speed.“
He also addressed the fact that Florida started a freshman at safety in week one but said the decision was not made haphazardly. “There’s a lot of communication that goes on there. When we play those guys, we have a high level of confidence that they’re going to go in there and they’re going to be able to communicate, run the package and do it right otherwise we wouldn’t put them out there. Although they are young, we have a lot of confidence in them, we really do,” he said.
Freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “To me that’s one of the things, when you look at a corner, a guy that has speed and length with some cover ability. I think that gives you traits to be a good corner. And then if you have speed and length – and I think he’s got a little bit of football savvy to him which I like as a young guy. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
Sophomore S Matt Elam: “In Matt Elam, although he’s a sophomore, we think he’s like our biggest vet back there. I think Matt has some traits to be a really talented safety, and I’m looking forward to him.”
Sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “I’ve always loved the competitive fire of Cody.”
Junior S Josh Evans: “Josh Evan is another one who has terrific size and speed, so I’m hoping he can pull through and do some stuff.”
Freshman S De’Ante “Pop” Saunders: “The one guy that I thought has really come on – he’s changed positions during training camp – is Pop Saunders. From playing corner and safety and nickel, he’s done a good job. […] For him – going through the spring practice as a young player – made a huge difference. Think about all the experience that you gain and the practice that he gained from coming in early. That’s one player that it really benefited him coming in early because he had more of a chance to learn the defense and had some more reps at it. I’m very encouraged. Any time you have a safety that has corner cover skills, that’s really what you’re looking for.”
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely: “I’ve always liked the energy that he brings to the field.”
Redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor: “Mike Taylor is a guy that I think can provide some versatility, he can play in the regular package, he can play in the nickel package. I think he’s got good instincts, and he’s a player we’re hoping to develop.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Earl Okine: “As a tall guy, he’s got length, and sometimes as a defensive lineman, especially as a two-gap defensive lineman, you look for a guy who has got length who can keep the blockers off him. Earl’s a tall guy, he played with good effort, and we feel like he’s kind of developing in the system here to play both 3-4 and 4-3.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley: “Dominique had a really good camp, and he’s kind of playing what we play our three – our tackle position. Sometimes he lines up all the way on the tackle, sometimes he lines up inside.”